Now that over a half-million Americans have been lost to this pandemic — and the number could easily top 600,000 or higher before the year is out — there is a movement to establish a new national holiday to remember and mourn the COVID dead.
It makes sense to begin thinking about how the nation will collectively mourn once this pandemic is behind us, even though it may still be far from over. But even though more Americans have now been lost to COVID-19 than died in both World Wars and the Vietnam War combined, it may be that the country will be eager to move on after this is over — much like it was after the 1918/19 influenza pandemic, for which we have no specific day of remembrance.
One of those advocating for a new holiday is Kristin Urquiza of San Francisco. You may recall that Urquiza spoke passionately during the Democratic National Convention about losing her Trump-supporting, COVID-denying father to the pandemic at the age of 65. "His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump — and for that he paid with his life," Urquiza memorably said. She was later invited to be a guest of Joe Biden at his September 29 debate with Trump in Cleveland.
Since then, Urquiza co-founded the advocacy group Marked By COVID, and she appeared Monday night on the PBS Newshour to talk about the movement to establish COVID Memorial Day. The appearance coincided with around 100 grassroots events happening around the country on March 1 to mark the losses in the first year of the pandemic.
"A national day of remembrance, a COVID Memorial Day, is essential to be able to give people the time and space to mourn and grieve," Urquiza says. "Our overall response to the pandemic needs to be commensurate to the scale of the problem."
"Memorialization and recognition cannot wait any longer," the group writes on its website. "The call from the community is clear: We need ways to publicly grieve, heal, recognize, learn, and prevent this from ever happening again. This must happen immediately and as one united nation."
Urquiza says that the need to have this conversation now is urgent, because she is worried the country will move on too quickly, and without properly acknowledging the loss.
"We want to make sure that we commit to never forget, to also document in the history books the unvarnished truth of what happened and why, so that we can prevent this from ever happening again," Urquiza says.
America's existing Memorial Day took shape in the 1860s as multiple communities around the country staged springtime events to commemorate the losses of the Civil War. Also known as Decoration Day in some northern states at the time — a few southern states still celebrate their own Confederate Memorial Day — it fell on May 30 for many decades until Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, establishing that Memorial Day would, starting in 1971, always be celebrated on the last Monday of May.
The day has come to be seen as a day to remember all of America's war dead, from all conflicts.
But given the enormity of the pandemic's death toll, having a separate day of remembrance could be something to consider.
Marked By COVID is pushing for this holiday to be recognized on the first Monday of March, annually.
If you'd like to join the movement, you can use this form to send a letter to President Biden pushing for the establishment of the holiday.